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ABUSE OF THE UNDERSTANDING.
Credebant hoc grande nefas, et morte piandum Si juvenis vetulo non assurrexerat
'Twas impious then; (so much was age rever'd) For youth to keep their seat, when an old man appear'd.
I KNOW no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffused itself through both sexes and all qualities of mankind; and there is hardly that person to be found, who is not more concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than honesty and virtue. But this unhappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good-natured, is the source of most of the ill habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the abandoned writings of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind.
The reflections of men of fine parts are so delicate upon all occurrences which they are concerned in, that they should be exposed to more than ordinary infamy and punishment for offending against such quick admonitions as their own souls give them, and blunting the fine edge of their minds in such a manner, that they are no more shocked at vice and folly, than men of slower capacities. There is no greater monster in being, than a very ill man of great parts: he lives like a man in a palsy, with one side of him dead. While perhaps he enjoys the satisfaction of luxury, of wealth, of ambition, he has lost the taste of good-will, of friendship, of innocence. Scarecrow, the beggar in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, who disabled himself in his right leg, and asks alms all day to get himself a warm sup. per and a trull at night, is not half so despicable a wretch as such a man of sense. The beggar has no
relish above sensations; he finds rest more agreeable than motion; and while he has a warm fire and his doxy, never reflects that he deserves to be whipped. Every man who terminates his satisfactions and enjoyments within the supply of his own necessities and passions, is, in my eye, as poor a rogue as Scarecrow. But, for the loss of public and private virtue, we are beholden to your men of parts forsooth; it is with them no matter what is done, so it is done with an air. But to him, who in a corrupt age acts according to nature and reason, a selfish man, in the most shining circumstance and equipage, appears in the same condition with the fellow above mentioned, but more contemptible, in proportion to what more he robs the public of and enjoys above him. I lay it down therefore for a rule, that the whole man is to move toge. ther; that every action of any importance, is to have a prospect of public good; and that the general tendency of our indifferent actions, ought to be agreeable to the dictates of reason, of religion, of good breeding; without this, a man, as I before have hinted, is hopping instead of walking, he is not in his entire and proper motion.
I am of opinion, that to polish our understandings and neglect our manners, is of all things the most inexcusable. Reason should govern passion, but instead of that, you see, it is often subservient to it; and as unaccountable as one would think it, a wise man is not always a good man. This degeneracy is not only the guilt of particular persons, but also at some times of a whole people; and perhaps it may appear upon examination, that the most polite ages are the least virtuous. This may be attributed to the folly of admitting wit and learning as merit in themselves, without considering the application of them. By this means it becomes a rule, not so much to regard what we do, as how we do it. But this false beauty will not pass upon men of honest ininds and true taste: Sir Richard Blackmore says, with as much good sense as
virtue, It is a mighty dishonour and shame to employ excellent faculties and abundance of wit, to humour and please men in their vices and follies. The great enemy of mankind, notwithstanding his wit and angelic faculties, is the most odious being in the whole creation. He goes on soon after to say very generously, that he undertook the writing of his poem to rescue the Muses ont of the hands of ravishers, to restore them to their sweet and chaste mansions, and to engage them in an employment suitable to their diguity. This certainly ought to be the purpose of every man who appears in public; and whoever does not proceed upon that foundation, injures his country as fast as he succeeds in his studies. When modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one sex, and integrity of the other, society is upon a wrong basis, and we shall be ever after without rules to guide our judg. ment in what is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and ha' mour another: to follow the dictates of the two latter, is going into a road that is both endless and intricate; when we pursue the other, our passage is delightful, and what we aim at easily attainable.
I do not doubt but England is at present as polite a nation as any in the world; but any man who thinks can easily see, that the affectation of being gay and in fashion, has very near eaten up our good sense and our religion. Is there any thing so just, as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us? and yet is there any thing more common, than that we run in perfect contradiction to them? all which is supported by no other pretension, than that it is done with what we call a good grace.
Nothing ought to be held laudable or becoming, but what nature itself should promp us to think so. Respect to all kind of superiors is founded, methinks, upon instinct; and yet what is so ridiculous as age? I
make this abrupt transition to the mention of this vice more than any other, in order to introduce a little. story, which I think a pretty instance that the most polite age is in danger of being the most vicious.
"It happened at Athens, during a public representation of some play exhibited in honour of the commonwealth, that an old gentleman came too late for a place suitable to his age and quality. Many of the young gentlemen who observed the difficulty and confusion he was in, made signs to him that they would accommodate him if he came where they sate: the good mau bustled through the crowd accordingly; but when he came to the seats to which he was invit ed, the jest was to sit close and expose him, as he stood out of countenance, to the whole audience. The frolic went round all the Athenian benches. But on those occasions there were also particular places assigned for foreigners: when the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed for the Lacedemonians, that honest people, more virtuous than polite, rose up all to a man, and with the greatest respect received him among them. The Athenians being suddenly touched with a sense of the Spartan virtue and their own de. generacy, gave a thunder of applause; and the old man cried out, the Athenians understand what is good, but the Lacedemonians practise it","
NECESSITY OF FOLLOWING
Non omnia possumus omnes.
With various talents form'd we variously excel.
NATURE does nothing in vain; the Creator of the
universe has appointed every thing to a certain use and purpose, and determined it to a settled course and sphere of action, from which, if it in the least deviates, it becomes unfit to answer those ends for which it was designed. In like manner it is in the dispositions of society, the civil economy is formed in a chain as well as the natural; and in either case the breach but of one link puts the whole in some disorder. It is, I think, pretty plain, that most of the absurdity and ridicule we meet with in the world, is generally owing to the impertinent affectation of excelling in characters men are not fit for, and for which nature never designed them.
Every man has one or more qualities which may make him useful both to himself and others: Nature never fails of pointing them out, and while the infant continues under her guardianship, she brings him on in his way, and then offers herself for a guide in what remains of the journey; if he proceeds in that course, he can hardly miscarry: Nature makes good her engagements; for as she never promises what she is not able to perform, so she never fails of performing what she promises. But the misfortune is, men despise what they may be masters of, and affect what they are not fit for; they reckon themselves already possessed of what their genius inclined them to, and so bend all their ambition to excel in what is out of their reach. Thus they destroy the use of their natural talents, in the same manner as covetous men do their quiet and repose; they can enjoy no satisfaction in what they